Ungrammatical truncation?

From Gail Collins’s op-ed column in the NYT yesterday, “A Ted Cruz On Every Corner”, about recent looniness from Texas lawmakers:

The old center-right standard-bearer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is desperately trying to wipe out his reputation as a mainstream politician while he runs for re-election.

“I don’t know about you, but Barack Obama ought to be impeached,” he told a Tea Party gathering recently, with more fervor for the cause than for grammatical construction.

Collins doesn’t explain her objection, but I’m guessing she thinks that Dewhurst should have said:

“I don’t know about you, but I think Barack Obama ought to be impeached.”

(supplying the source of the opinion in the second clause). So she’s treating this case as (roughly) parallel to the truncation of as far as X goes / is concerned to just as far as, which has been widely reviled (for reasons I don’t fully understand).

On as far as, see this posting, where it’s contrasted with various no matter truncations (which seem to elicit no negative press).

I don’t know about you, but (without I think) is enormously frequent — in raw ghits, 109.2m without it to 28.2m with I think — and it’s recognized in the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus as an informal construction

used to mean ‘whatever you are going to do’ or ‘whatever you think’: I don’t know about you, but I’m going to bed.

So: the construction is (at least from the historical point of view) truncated and it’s informal — but that doesn’t make it ungrammatical.

What’s interesting in this in that Collins is a master of informal style (including strategic deployment of slang) in her writing, even in this very posting.

2 Responses to “Ungrammatical truncation?”

  1. Jan Freeman Says:

    But the Cambridge example — “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to bed” — is easily read as a parallel construction: I don’t know [what you’re doing], but I’m [doing x].” Not so with “I don’t know about you, but Obama should be impeached”; my natural reading would be “I don’t know if you should be impeached, but Obama should be.” (“I don’t know about you, but your partner should be behind bars.” The first would be normal for me; the second requires a midcourse adjustment because the “you” and the following subject aren’t (in the implicit grammar) parallel.

    Now you can tell me if this makes sense in linguist language …

  2. Allison Wright Says:

    I agree with the comment by Jan Freeman.
    “I don’t know about you, but Barack Obama ought to be impeached,” is not an ellipsis in the true sense because the two halves of this utterance are not in apposition with each other, and therefore not consistently interpreted the same way by the majority who hear it.
    I don’t know about you, but I think that his type of utterance points to a less than rigorous thought process on the part of the speaker, and to a lack of preparation before making the speech.

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